AES Semigas


15 August 2023

First Solar issues 2023 Sustainability Report unveiling onsite third-party social audits

Cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film photovoltaic (PV) module maker First Solar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA has released its 2023 Sustainability Report and established a new industry benchmark for transparency by making public details of onsite third-party social audits conducted across its global manufacturing footprint in what is believed to be an industry first.

First Solar is also believed to be the first among the world’s largest solar manufacturers to have conducted third-party social audits across its operational global manufacturing footprint.

First Solar says that its integrated manufacturing process helps to eliminate risks and traceability challenges associated with outsourcing and the multiple supply tiers of conventional crystalline silicon solar manufacturing.

As the only major solar manufacturer that is a member of the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA), First Solar conducted three onsite third-party RBA Validated Assessment Program (VAP) audits at its manufacturing facilities in the USA, Malaysia and Vietnam. While the firm’s US and Vietnam operations achieved the highest-possible rating of platinum status, the audits uncovered the fact that four service providers at its Malaysia facility fell short of First Solar’s standards. Details of the findings and First Solar’s corrective actions are included in the company’s 2023 Sustainability Report. The Malaysia facility is expected to have its VAP closure audit in fourth-quarter 2023. The purpose of proven third-party social audits like the RBA VAP social audits is not to rubber-stamp compliance but to identify and remedy existing and potential issues to help improve the lives of workers across the supply chain.

“We have chosen to highlight the audit findings openly, not only because of our commitment to transparency and Responsible Solar, but to raise awareness of modern slavery risks that hide in plain sight and to illustrate the value of an independent third-party social audit conducted in a credible, comprehensive manner,” says CEO Mark Widmar. “The solar industry will anchor the global transition to a sustainable energy future, and we believe that it must do so responsibly,” he adds “Our industry’s work to power the energy transition and enable the fight against climate change does not serve as credits to offset its social and human rights obligations.”

The report also highlights that First Solar’s new factory in Tamil Nadu, India, which is scheduled to begin commercial production in second-half 2023, is expected to be the world’s first net-zero water withdrawal solar manufacturing facility. Located in a region of high baseline water stress, the facility is designed to minimize its impact on local water resources and will rely entirely on tertiary treated reverse osmosis water from the city's sewage treatment plant and have zero wastewater discharge.

“As we continue our journey to growth we are doubling down on our commitment to Responsible Solar and meaningfully contributing to the fight against climate change,” says Widmar. “This includes designing our manufacturing facilities and products with sustainability in mind.”

Compared with 2021, in 2022 First Solar lowered its greenhouse-gas emissions intensity by 11%, manufacturing energy intensity by 8%, manufacturing waste intensity by 28%, and manufacturing water intensity by 20%. The firm also secured an ‘AA’ rating from MSCI ESG Research in 2022, the highest in the solar industry, and a CDP Climate Change ‘A-’ rating.

First Solar claims that its PV modules have the lowest carbon and water footprint of any commercially available PV module today, and that it is the first PV manufacturer to have its product included in the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) global registry for sustainable electronics. The firm has also pioneered a high-value recycling program, which provides closed-loop semiconductor recovery for use in new modules, while also recovering other materials including aluminium, glass and laminates.

See related items:

First Solar issues 2022 Sustainability Report showcasing progress on ESG metrics

First Solar commits to science-based emissions targets, net-zero emissions by 2050

Tags: First Solar CdTe



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